a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Department of followups: terraforming, Wal-Mart, Bosnia, coffee, Gilliard

Posted by Thomas Nephew on May 14th, 2007

An occasional review of further developments in stuff I’ve written about before.

# Terraforming Today, October 19, 2002 — As I wrote in 2002, it’s been established for some time that phytoplankton “blooms” — surges of growth of marine single celled plants– can be caused simply by adding relatively small amounts of iron to areas of open ocean. (Iron is a trace element the organisms need to grow and multiply.) Much of the biomass that isn’t converted into plankton-eaters eventually settles to the bottom of the ocean. The questions have been whether this could result in significant net removal of carbon from the atmosphere — and even if it did, would it be a good idea? Now we can add another one: is it commercially viable as a “carbon credit” scheme? In early May, the New York Times’ Matt Richtel reported in “Recruiting Plankton to Fight Global Warming“:

In an effort to ameliorate the effects of global warming, several groups are working on ventures to grow vast floating fields of plankton intended to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and carry it to the depths of the ocean. It is an idea, debated by experts for years, that still sounds like science fiction — and some scholars think that is where it belongs. […]

In Europe, where there is a market for carbon credits, it is now worth only $2 to offset a ton of carbon emissions. But not long ago, that figure was $35, and it is expected to rise again as the limits imposed under the Kyoto Protocol on global warming start to bite. Planktos believes that it can make a healthy profit if it receives $5 a ton for capturing carbon dioxide. […]

….[but] one unresolved question is whether regulatory bodies will even endorse iron fertilization as a valid means of carbon sequestration that would be allowed under any so-called cap-and-trade system to limit global warming gases.

One objection to the “Geritol tablet” global cooling theory are that at least some of the biomass settling to the bottom of the ocean may wind returning to the atmosphere later on as methane or nitrous oxide, both of which are worse greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. Another problem is that large scale carbon and biomass dumps to the deep sea might well change the chemistry of the deep sea environment, disrupting ecosystems there.

Meanwhile, though, at least two companies — Planktos and Climos — are looking at the idea. Planktos is sending a ship, Weatherbird II, to the Pacific Ocean area near the Galapagos Islands to measure carbon uptake after iron releases.

# Wal-Mart wins another one, February 25, 2005;, July 17, 2005; Employee Free Choice Act, June 13, 2005 — Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published a study of Wal-Mart labor practices this month — Discounting Rights: Wal-Mart’s Violation of US Workers’ Right to Freedom of Association. From the introduction:

Wal-Mart is a case study in what is wrong with US labor laws. It is not alone among US companies in its efforts to combat union formation, following the incentives set out in unbalanced US labor laws that tilt the playing field decidedly in favor of anti-union agitation. It is also not alone in violating weak US labor laws and taking advantage of ineffective labor law enforcement. But Wal-Mart stands out for the sheer magnitude and aggressiveness of its anti-union apparatus and actions.

Between January 2000 and July 2005, even the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) found 15 labor law violations by Wal-Mart. The next closest “competitor” was Kroger — with 2. The HRW report describes a variety of illegal Wal-Mart anti-labor tactics in detail, including Discriminatory Hiring, Firing, Disciplining, and Policy Application; Union Activity Surveillance; “Unit Packing” and Worker Transfers to Dilute Union Support; Addressing Worker Concerns to Undermine Union Activity; Threatening Benefit Loss if Workers Organize; Interrogating Workers about Union Activity; Illegal No-Talking Rules; Discriminatory Application of Solicitation Rules; Illegal No-Solicitation Rules; and Confiscating Union Literature. There’s also a chapter on the Loveland, Colorado case I wrote about a couple of times back in early 2005 (see “Wal-Mart wins another one”.)

# ICJ: Srebrenica was genocide. Serbian police were involved… (yet Serbia cleared of genocide), February 26, 2007 — In early April, the New York Times’ Marlise Simons reported “Genocide Court Ruled for Serbia Without Seeing Full War Archive“:

Lawyers interviewed in The Hague and Belgrade said that the outcome might well have been different had the International Court of Justice pressed for access to the full archives, and legal scholars and human rights groups said it was deeply troubling that the judges did not subpoena the documents directly from Serbia. At one point, the court rebuffed a Bosnian request that it demand the full documents, saying that ample evidence was available in tribunal records. […]

As part of its ruling, the court said that the 1995 massacre of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, a designated United Nations safe haven in eastern Bosnia, was an act of genocide committed by Bosnian Serb forces, but that it lacked proof in this case that the forces were acting under Serbia’s “direction” or “effective control.”

The ruling raised some eyebrows because details of Serbian military involvement were already known from records of earlier tribunal cases. For instance, evidence showed that in late 1993, more than 1,800 officers and noncommissioned men from the Yugoslav Army were serving in the Bosnian Serb army, and were deployed, paid, promoted or retired by Belgrade.

These and many other men, including top generals, were given dual identities, and to help handle that development, Belgrade created the so-called 30th personnel center of the general staff, a secret office for dealing with officers listed in both armies. The court took note of that, but said that Belgrade’s “substantial support” did not automatically make the Bosnian Serb army a Serbian agent.

However, lawyers who have seen the archives and further secret personnel files say they address Serbia’s control and direction even more directly, revealing in new and vivid detail how Belgrade financed and supplied the war in Bosnia, and how the Bosnian Serb army, though officially separate after 1992, remained virtually an extension of the Yugoslav Army. They said the archives showed in verbatim records and summaries of meetings that Serbian forces, including secret police, played a role in the takeover of Srebrenica and in the preparation of the massacre there.

I’ve meant to write about this in its own post, but couldn’t figure out what else to say beyond spluttering in disgust. So rather than lose sight of it altogether, I’m just putting down a marker here. It seems to me there’s a back story waiting to be reported on this. One involves the “controversy” of whether Serbia and Montenegro could be held to account under international law, since this “rump Yugoslavia” was not strictly the former republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in and of itself. A second, deeper controversy involved some judges’ 1996 opposition to the whole idea of holding nations — rather than individuals — accountable for genocide:

In [Judges Shi Jiuyong’s and Vereshchetin’s] view, the Convention on Genocide was essentially and primarily designed as an instrument directed towards the punishment of persons committing genocide or genocidal acts and the prevention of the commission of such crimes by individuals, and retains that status. The determination of the international community to bring individual perpetrators of genocidal acts to justice, irrespective of their ethnicity or the position they occupy, points to the most appropriate course of action. Therefore, in their view, it might be argued that the International Court of Justice is not the proper venue for the adjudication of the complaints which the Applicant has raised in the current proceedings.

A remarkable view for a judge on the International Court of Justice! This view didn’t prevail in 1996, but it was co-authored by a judge (China’s Shi Jiuyong) who was among the majority finding against Bosnia this February. As before, it seems to me that justice for Bosnians and Srebrenicans has foundered on legal pedantry and shortsightedness.

# Starbucks Challenge, November 20, 2005 — Just got a comment to this post alerting me to the documentary “Black Gold,” by Nick and Mark Francis, about Ethiopian coffee farmers and their struggle to get a decent price for their crop:

Tadesse Meskela, the representative of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union in Southern Ethiopia, seeks to circumvent the global commodity exchanges by tirelessly traveling the world selling premium grade coffee directly to coffee roasters who will pay more for his high grade product and who support the idea of paying farmers a living wage. He returns the profits to the cooperative members who use the extra income to build the schools and infrastructure needed to develop their communities.

At the Cancun conference, one African delegate explains, “Trade is more important than aid.” Seven million Ethiopians are dependent on aid and Africa exports a smaller percentage of world trade today than 20 years ago – only 1%. If that figure only doubled it would represent 70 billion dollars, five times the amount of aid the continent receives.

# Send some good thoughts Steve Gilliard’s way, March 9, 2007 — Mr. Gilliard is not getting better; a post-operative “system-wide infection” has him back in the ICU at his hospital. In addition to good thoughts, consider visiting his web site and clicking through on some ads, donating some money, or buying some of his handsome “Fighting Liberals” or “We Fight Back” t-shirts, coffee mugs or other items.

NOTES: “Recruiting Plankton” item via Enrique Gili (“commonground”), who also linked my 2002 post (thanks); Human Rights Watch Wal-Mart report via Jonathan Tasini. Gilliard via digby and Avedon Carol.

2 Responses to “Department of followups: terraforming, Wal-Mart, Bosnia, coffee, Gilliard”

  1. » Blog Archive » Srebrenica: 12 years on Says:

    […] Court of Justice reprehensibly absolved Serbia of responsibility for the massacre — after refusing to subpoena documents plainly showing that the Bosnian Serb army was directed from and paid by […]

  2. » Blog Archive » Practice to deceive Says:

    […] the survivors of Srebrenica, who watched the ICC find the ethnic slaughter there was no genocide by studiously ignoring documents proving it […]

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